The Privilege Syndrome

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The issue of Privilege has engaged the Orissa Legislative Assembly many a times. In a recent ruling, the Speaker had to reject the notice of privilege against an I.A.S. Officer who was alleged to have trespassed into the Lobby of the House on the specific ground that he was not named. As he observed, neither the notifier nor the members who were pressing for action against the trespasser-officer, had named him. It is right, therefore, that the Speaker refused to take cognizance of the notice.

But should the matter end here?

It is everybody’s knowledge that members were so deeply agitated over entry of the alleged officer into the Lobby on the day when corruption charges against Mr. P.K.Nayak, I.A.S. were in rant and rave in the House, that, after the notice of privilege was served, members pressing it, had revealed that they had seen the officer in the Lobby. If the Assembly staff who were examined had really not seen the alleged I.A.S.Officer having entered into the Lobby, then the member, who told the House that he had seen the officer there must have told a lie.

Has a member any right to place a false statement in the House? If the issue of privilege is to be seriously considered, this question should be the crux of cogitation. It is not the first time that the House has been told lies. When Mr. Biju Patnaik was the Chief Minister, for instance, a member of the ruling party told the House that a patient in the District Headquarters Hospital of Puri succumbed to theft of eyes and named a Doctor who, according to him, was the perpetrator of the crime. The Minister of State in charge of Health and Family Welfare went to the extent of saying that the said Doctor was lobbying in the Assembly campus in his favour and when caught red-handed, cunningly escaped. But later, in course of official enquiry as well as in the Court of Law, it transpired that the allegation was absolutely wrong. No law has given a carte blanche to any member of the legislature to raise false allegations against any member of the public or any public servant in the House under the umbrage of privilege and to kill precious time of the Legislature in the process.

It is time to decide as to whether the House enjoys the privilege, breech of which is punishable, or the members of the House. In the instant case, the privilege of the House has been transgressed by its members who did not name the I.A.S.Officer eventhough, according to their statement, he was found in the Lobby.Members of the House are responsible representatives of the people. They should have no hesitation in naming the man who dared to use the Lobby of the Assembly for personal purpose, if that was real. Whether or not the staffs of the Assembly have told the truth can be ascertained later.

But it seems the issue of privilege of the Assembly has not commanded the attention it deserves. Most of the questions of privilege have remained unanswered in the past and died being coterminous with the Assembly. On the other hand, cases of unintentional breech of privilege have had engaged the attention of the House in abundance in the past.

This syndrome is to be overcome in interest of democracy. It is a shame that our Legislatures have been making a mockery of democracy. As sovereign bodies, they are sitting in judgement over allegations of breech of their privileges and granting pardons or awarding punishments even though they have not yet defined their privileges by Law.Art.105 of our Constitution in respect of both the Houses of Parliament and Art.194 in respect of State Assemblies, while giving privileges to the Legislatures and members thereof, have required the same to be defined by Law. Had it been done, it could have been justiceable. Every member of the public would have been entitled to legal remedies against any wrong and emotional imposition of punishment in the matter of privilege and any responsible citizen could have the scope to invoke Law against any legislator for misuse of the floor of the Houses. The ramparts of our democracy are yet to address themselves to this constitutional responsibility.

How long must we be governed by precedents of British Parliament and interpreters of parliamentary practices in the matter of privileges awaiting enactment of our own Law as envisaged by our own Constitution? Misuse of the Orissa floor for fake allegations is a pointer to the syndrome of privilege that needs to be urgently tackled. The right of the citizen to natural justice cannot be allowed to be transgressed by the Legislatures.

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